Another day, another view at Brian Cashman’s track record in free agency. Today, a look into his decision-making in free agency with catchers. Unlike the past two breakdowns on starters and relievers, this post will be a bit shorter. Not only do pitchers require more roster spots than catchers, but Cashman had Jorge Posada as a mainstay for many years. Only in recent seasons has he had to sign anything more than a backup for the position.
If you haven’t read the previous two editions discussing Cashman’s free agency moves, the process I used to compute the salaries in 2013 dollars is noted in the starting pitcher post. For this writeup and the rest of the position player articles, only fWAR will be used to determine cost efficiency. The fundamental difference between fWAR and rWAR isn’t as significant for position players as it is for pitchers.
During Cashman’s run as General Manager, he’s agreed to Major League contracts with ten catchers in the open market. Only three were signed to be regulars: Posada, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann. The latest addition, McCann, has yet to play of course and will be excluded from this analysis.
On the precipice, it looks like Cashman has done a pretty bad job. Nearly $21M per victory looks bad any way you slice it, and if Martin is removed, the number jumps to $60M. In truth, though, these numbers may be deceiving.
No WAR figure accounts for catcher framing yet, and it’s worth noting that Martin, Jose Molina, and Alberto Castillo are all elite framers per Baseball Prospectus’ Max Marchi. Although framing stats are relatively new and still a work in progress, they can provide an idea of additional value at the position. As an example, Molina’s framing was worth 22 runs in 2008. That translates to roughly two wins. Assuming that’s correct, for the salary he earned, Molina was a steal. Perhaps there are some additional wins from Martin and Castillo that don’t show in this breakdown.
On the other hand, Posada was noted as one of the worst framers in baseball. Without that considered in the formula, Posada’s WAR total may be inflated. Either way, the deal he signed after the 2007 season didn’t go well. He was hurt most of 2008, was decent from 2009-2010, and was moved off the position in 2011 in favor of Martin.
With evidence pointing to pitch framing as a skill, it’s unfair to determine Cashman’s performance with these catchers solely based on WAR. Moreover, with most of these guys being backups, it’s pretty hard to judge their performances in one season because they are such small samples. I think it’s fair to say that Cashman did a fine job finding a caddy for Posada via free agency, and has done well finding his successors in Martin and McCann. Yes, the catcher situation this past season was abominable, but the McCann deal should erase that memory.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as “Russell Martin”) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons